Wisdom teeth are the third set of big molars located at the back of the mouth. Most people have four of them (one in each far corner of the mouth) and these particular teeth usually emerge during your late teens or early twenties.
If your wisdom teeth are healthy, emerge fully through the gums and are positioned correctly, they are generally left in place.
But sometimes there isn’t enough room in the mouth for the teeth to grow and emerge properly.
Problems can occur when the teeth do not come through the gums fully, get stuck (even below the gumline) or grow at an odd angle.
Dentists refer to these as impacted wisdom teeth and it’s quite common to have at least one impacted wisdom tooth.
Your dentist can take an X-ray to see how the teeth are growing and how they are impacted. If necessary, the dentist will arrange to remove these teeth.
Most dentists prefer to do this when patients are younger because the bone and roots are not fully developed and healing will be much faster — and this is one reason why younger people may have their wisdom teeth removed.
However, it is possible for problems to occur later in life too – even if your teeth are not impacted, and there are some warning signs that you should be aware of.
Signs of Problems With Wisdom Teeth
Impacted teeth can cause pain and swelling in the jaw and face. Some people may experience headaches too. In addition, because partially impacted teeth are much harder to clean, the chance of other dental issues like cavities, gum disease and infection increases.
2. Bleeding, sore or reddened gums
Painful sore gums which bleed easily are an early sign of gum disease (also known as gingivitis or periodontal disease). Keeping partially emerged teeth clean is difficult. Food and debris can get trapped around the teeth causing a build-up of plaque and tarter. This can lead to gum disease.
3. Bad breath or a bad taste
Halitosis (bad breath) or a nasty taste in your mouth can indicate various dental issues including infection, decay and gun disease and is a sign that you need to see a dentist.
4. Damage to neighbouring teeth
If wisdom teeth are growing sideways or pushing other teeth out of line because there isn’t enough space in the mouth, neighbouring teeth can become damaged or shift.
Cysts (fluid-filled swellings) can develop around impacted teeth. You should contact your dentist if you experience any lumps or changes around your teeth.
See Your Dentist Right Away
If you are experiencing any of these issues, it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible so that they can examine and X-ray the area.
If necessary, your dentist or dental surgeon will arrange to remove the affected wisdom tooth or teeth. This involves a surgical procedure and usually a local anaesthetic.
You may experience pain and slight bruising for the first few days after the teeth have been removed but full recovery generally occurs in about two weeks. You can usually carry out your normal routine and attend work or school within a few days of the procedure.
There are a few complications associated with the procedure. These include a condition known as ‘dry socket’ which can be felt as a dull pain in the empty socket if the blood clot is dislodged. However, you can help prevent this by following your dentist’s advice after surgery.
There is also a slight risk of nerve damage which may feel like a tingling or numb sensation, but this is usually temporary. It is also important to know that smoking can delay the healing process and increase your risk of infection, so if you are having surgery, try to use the opportunity to quit smoking
You can’t prevent impacted wisdom teeth, but you can be aware of any associated symptoms or issues. Ignoring symptoms can lead to further problems like abscesses and infections and this can damage other healthy teeth.
It is always better to see the dentist right away — as this can help reduce costs and the amount of treatment needed in the long term.
As always, remember to practice good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. This helps to prevent the build-up of plaque and tarter and reduces the risk of gum disease and cavities – which can further complicate wisdom teeth treatment.
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